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SIXTH SERIES.–VOL. XII, PART IV
A PREHISTORIC BURIAL-PLACE IN
By E. LORIMER THOMAS, M.A (Oxon.)
(Continued from “Arch. Camb.,” July, 1910) The discovery of a prehistoric burial-ground at Gors Goch, in the parish of Llanwenog, is entirely due to the intelligence of Messrs. Evan and Jenkin Davies of Gors Villa, who noticed fragments of a cinerary urn, accidentally turned up by the plough, and carefully preserved them for inspection by their nephew, Dr. Evan Evans of Lampeter.
These fragments were forwarded to Professor Boyd Dawkins, who pronounced them to be undoubtedly of the Bronze Age.
A small Society, calling itself “The Silurian Prehistoric Society," was subsequently formed at Lampeter in order to supervise excavations, and to put on record any further discoveries.
This ancient burial-ground extended for about 100 yards, as far as is at present known, on ground overlooking the margin of a now vanished lake, over a mile long, and S-shaped, lying in a plateau from 800 ft. to 1000 ft. above the level of the sea. The site of this lake, which can easily be traced on the Ordnance Map, or any good map such as Bartholomew's Survey Atlas, is now partly a peat bog, the surface of
6TU SER., VOL. XII.
which has been steadily lowered by generations of peatcutters.
The south end terminated at the watershed near Clun Meherin, where a tributary of the Cleddyn rises, joining the Teify near High Mead.
The north end and outlet of the lake was blocked by a natural dam of rock. This has been pierced by a tributary of the Grannell, the Afon Las, which flows in an opposite direction to the Cleddyn, and now drains the Gors Goch peat-bog and adjacent
The discovery of urns near Capel Cynon in 1905, and more recently at Gors Goch, proves that on the highlands of Cardiganshire, separated by the valley of the Clettwr Fawr, and lying inside a triangle drawn through Lampeter, Llandyssul and New Quay, there once lived a population who cremated their dead. To this triangle must be added, on the south, the Carmarthenshire parishes of Llangeler, Penboyr, Cenarth, Cilrhedyn and Cynwyl ; on the east the district about Craig Twrch, and on the south-west the district about Glyn Cuch.3
Sepulchral urns have been found in burial-places in most of these parishes. This is probably a very small percentage of the burial-places which exist undiscovered, or which have been dispersed by farmers and builders and by wholesale rifling in search of gold or coins. This we know from a writer in Yr Haul for 1845, p. 246, to have been the case in the parishes of Llangeler and Penboyr.
The following facts seem to justify the statement that South Cardiganshire and North Carmarthenshire were, at any rate in the earlier part of the Bronze Age, as thickly populated as any other part of Britain.
(a) Their extensive seaboard in an age when sailing was probably as safe as land-travel. (Navigation seems to have been more extensively practised than is usually 1 Arch. Camb., 1905.
? Ibid., July, 1910. 3 See Arch. Camb., 1864.
recognised. We may instance the Bronze Age rockcarvings of large ships in Sweden and Ireland.)
(6) The natural advantages of well-elevated and open ground.
(c) The existence of prehistoric camps (e.g., Castell Moeddin, where fairies, dressed in green, used to dance every May) similar to the Bronze Age camps of North Cardiganshire.
(d) The prevalence, in names of fields or places, of the words Castell, Crug, Gaer, Carn, in many of which sepulchral urns have been discovered.
For instance, on the north side of the Clettwr Fawr we have Whilgarn, Caer Esgair Wen, Carn Glandwr, Crug Maen, Maes y garn, Pant Cruglas—the last three close to the vanished lake-Crug yr Udon, Carn Phylip Gwyddel, and Crug y Whyl, near Llanwenog.
On the south side we have, near Capel Cynon, Crug Cau, Crug Las, Crug Du, Crug Bach and Garnwen.
Besides these, the map to the “ History of Llangeler and Penboyr,” by Mr. D. E. Jones, shows no less than fourteen Carnau and Crugiau.
The words Castell, Caer, or Maen occur in thirteen other place-names.
Unfortunately no such local maps are given with the histories of the parishes of Llangunllo' and Llandyssul, but seven so-called castles are referred to in the latter parish, and a number of cairns, but only two by name, from each of which an urn has been removed. A thorough examination of old Tithe and Ordnance Maps should not fail to add to this number of significant place-names, and excavation would doubtless be rewarded by the discovery of urns in those spots which have not been disturbed.
Very little has as yet come to hand in Cardiganshire to help us to form some estimate of the civilization and the real date of the folk who practised cremation. The Bronze Age in Britain is guessed to have begun at the latest about 1500 B.C., and cremation to have been introduced 1000 B.C., about the time when Solomon was reigning in Israel and Homer composing his Epic. The close of the Barrow Period is dated by Sir John Evans circa 900 B.C.
1 C. H. Read, Guide to Bronze Aye, pp. 104, 146. 2 Rhys, Celtic Folk-Lore, i, 245. 3 Arch. Camb., 1906, p. 114. * See Horsfall Turner's Wanderings in Cardiganshire. 5 E. Davies, 1905.
6 W. J. Davies, 1896.
Burials of the Bronze Age, in contrast to those of the Stone Age, tell us very little of the social condition of the people. The only bronze implements as yet discovered in British interments are small pins, drills, knives and axe-hammers. On the other hand, the hoards found in caves and holes contain a large variety of bronze weapons, but lack the articles associated with burial, and seem to belong to a later age. Canon Greenwell, in his classic account of British Barrows, considers that the marked absence of bronze in barrows indicates a date before it had become common and cheap. Out of 435 burials, burnt or unburnt, in round barrows, only 17 contained metal, whereas 73 had flint or stone articles. In burials by cremation, only 3 per cent. contained any articles at all. Canon Greenwell leaves unexplained the natural question : “Where then are the graves of the later Bronze Age periods, after the metal had become cheap ?"
Comparing the Past with the Present, the answer may be that a wave of scepticism had passed over the land, and people ceased for a time to supply their dead with implements because, owing to closer contact with the destructive criticism of Continental tribes, the traditional doctrine of a Hereafter and Happy Hunting Grounds had been exploded ; so that it was only the old Orthodox section--a contemptible minority-who continued to practise cremation at all.
But to return to Gors Goch, and to confine ourselves to facts, not theories, and to the details of its prehistoric burials. All that can be learnt here is something of the method of disposal of the bodies, as no